The Creator is a rarity: An $80 million production that isn’t based on existing source material or IP. Granted, director Gareth Edwards has built up goodwill with blockbusters like Godzilla and Rogue One. When most directors are let out of their franchise cage, though, it’s usually to pursue something on a smaller scale. With so many reboots and sequels flooding the entertainment landscape, The Creator is a film you want to love. It’s also a film you want to be more original. While The Creator is visually stunning and at times thought-provoking, you can’t shake the feeling that many ideas on display have been done before. That’s because they have.
The film sets itself in the distant future where humanity finds itself at odds with AI. Actually, it’s not that different from where we are now. John David Washington plays Joshua, a former soldier who lost his pregnant wife Maya (Gemma Chan) during a conflict between man and machine. Allison Janney’s Colonel Howell encourages Joshua to come out of retirement to track down a mysterious weapon that could end the war. Joshua is shocked to find that the weapon is a robot child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) that he names Alfie.
From there, The Creator plays out like The Road, The Last of Us, A.I., Logan, Children of Men, and other sci-fi road trip stories. Although this subgenre has given us some brilliant stories, their success boils down to the rapport between the two central characters. Washington and Voyles deliver strong performances, but The Creator doesn’t always give them room to breathe. There’s a scene where Joshua explains to Alfie what heaven is and why neither of them is going there. For Joshua, it’s because he’s committed one too many sins. In Alfie’s case, it’s because she’s a machine.
There’s a genius moment in there trying to get out. However, the scene’s editing is all over the place with needless jump cuts. The Creator notably had three editors, which can shine through in the film’s excessive nature. This scene is also flooded with a heavy-handed score from the usually reliable Hans Zimmer. A moment like this should be much quieter and simple with the spectacle taking a backseat to the emotions. It’s the human element that Steven Spielberg naturally weaves into his films with small touches that are easy to miss. The Creator can often feel too grand for its own good, not supplying much space for little moments to play out.
That said, The Creator is a dazzling experience, combining its futuristic setting with the gritty realism of a Vietnam War picture. Apocalypse Now was a clear inspiration with Edwards using 1970s anamorphic lenses. As Edwards demonstrated with Godzilla and Rogue One, he has a gift for shooting combat, making the audience feel as if they’re engaged in the action. It’s in the character department where he struggles, even with Chris Weitz co-writing the screenplay. Still, the characters aren’t bad and by the finale, you do find yourself emotionally invested in them. The characters don’t stick with you like some of the movie’s imagery, however. This holds it back from being a sci-fi classic, but the film may provide a stepping stone to more original creations.